22 October 2011

My friends Aishwarya and Rakesh Holla had been to this place before. The photos shared were awesome which prompted me to visit Devaramane. The initial plan was to trek to Minchukallu from Devaramane village but looking at the recent adventures of Rakesh Holla, I decided to add nearby Ballala caves into the itinerary.

Buses go till Guthi which is 6km from Devaramane. Instead of walking on road, we decided to hire a Jeep. Unable to get a Jeep, we finally hired an auto from Mudigere. Unfortunately the auto could not climb the stretch after Guthi and we had to walk on tar road!! The road was steep but our spirits were high as it was the beginning of our walk. The cloudy conditions also helped us a lot. When we reached Devaramane, it was already 9:30AM.

The first person we met in the village was Kushalappa who was busy in some carpentry work. Rakesh Holla had said that Kushalappa is the only person in the village who knew about the caves!! But since he is busy with carpentry work, Kushalappa refuses to come. After pleading and convincing for few minutes, he agrees to guide us!! We do not waste much time to dump all unnecessary things in Kushalappa’s house and start the trek.

The trail starts behind Kushalappa’s house and after a climb of about 5 minutes we start to descend into a valley. The views around this place are amazing but thanks to overcast conditions we could not enjoy it in full. After a short descent we enter into a Shola forest. This is a leech territory and we run as fast as we can. We then had to climb up a hill wading through shoulder height grass.

After crossing the grassland we rest on a rock which is an ideal place to remove leeches. Everyone is bitten by them and some time is spent on removing them. Our guide shows us a place “Kaati mettida kallu” which had imprints of bison hoof on stone!! Sadly, this also is a hunting ground for workers from neighboring state employed in a nearby estate.

The journey is mostly on grasslands where we cross several mountains. It is said that the ruler Ballalaraya built fort here. The remains of the fort can be seen at several places. One is of the hill is named after the servant of Ballala. It is called as Banta kallu.

We now move along the border of South Canara and Chikmagalur district. It is amazing to see that people work at these remote places identifying and marking the borders!! We finally reach the end of a cliff. It is a perpendicular drop of few thousand feet. Guide shows the Ballala caves. It seemed no one till date is able to explore it fully. Kushalappa says that during his Father’s days few people who tried to enter into the caves never returned back. King Ballala also entered the cave never to come back!! Even Kushalappa has never entered this cave.

I try to enter the cave. It is the most scary and risky attempt. One needs to get down over slippery rocks with very little support. It is dark inside and any mistake would end our life. Even if we get down coming back would be difficult. Gone are the days of taking risks on life and I decide not to get into the cave any further. Rakesh Holla and his friends did explore some part of the caves last month. Hats off to them as they are the real adventurers!!

After spending some time at the caves, we start to walk. Minchukallu was our next destination. Since we had booked overnight bus, we had to return back on that day. And the last bus from Guthi was at 5:30PM. And we had an additional 6km to cover from Devaramane to Guthi. Minchukallu was still far away. We decide to drop Minchukallu half heartedly. As a consolation we start climbing a small hill nearby. Our decisions changed as we climbed that small hill. Minchukallu was clearly visible and we felt that we could make it. I and Yasin start walking briskly towards Minchukallu while Chitrai and Ashok decide to halt on a nearby hill. For next 30 minutes, we almost ran towards Minchukallu. The last stretch was steep and took away all our energy. I just fall as I reach the top of Minchukallu. Destination reached!!

Minchukallu is one of the highest peaks in Charmadi area. But due to misty conditions we cannot see much. The mighty Amedikallu is visible. It is still a day’s trek from Minchukallu.

We spend some time on the top and then start climbing down to meet Chitrai and Ashok at the base. It was time to have some lunch. With clouds hovering around the hills Kushalappa is worried. He says that it would be difficult to return back in rains and asks us to hurry up. So we put off our rest plans and start back.

Return journey is always tiring and this was no exception. Especially the last stretch to climb to the village of Devaramane was tough on my body. Back in Kushalappa’s house at Devaramane we were greeted with delicious buttermilk. That was a relief for our dehydrated bodies.

The last leg of the journey from Deveramane to Guthi was boring and tiring. But we were just in time for the last bus from Guthi.

The dog:

This was the dog from the Devaramane. It accompanied us all along the trek. The friendliest dog I had ever seen. At one point I and Ashok were trailing behind and were not visible to the people in the front. This dog comes back to check our progress and runs to the front again!! It even accompanied all the way from Devaramane to Guthi!!

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